Studying church history compares to watching two parents raise their child. It is both beautiful and ugly, intentional and messy, inspiring and terrifying to behold.
Imagine the church as the child; birthed, fed, guided into maturity. The parents are the Lord himself and church leadership throughout history. Usually, parents come from different family backgrounds and wrestle to unify their different approaches to parenting and visions for their child. In the same way, we see a mesh and a wrestle of God’s ways with ours in rearing the church. The easy way for God would have been to become a single parent - a very wise and good parent - but he chose to build his precious church together with us: weak and broken men and women.
Church history shows us the beauty of God’s character and the ugliness of our own. From the very beginning of the church, human nature shows its bad influence on the child. With every century, the church splits into more fractions. The disciples fight over greatness with Jesus still among them, Hellenistic and Hebraic Christians argue over rules of admission, the monastic movement turns its back on the legalized church, the eastern church splits from the west, and nowadays there are so many distinct denominations that to count them seems impossible. If I have learned one thing from church history, then that it is ugly. Because human nature is ugly. However, I have also learned to rejoice in the beauty of the One who does notrejectus in our ugliness, does not give up on us, and does not watch us from afar.
Secondly, church history also shows us how intentional God’s leadership in the church really is. It is an account of Him always raising up the right men and women at the right time, with the right skill-set for the job position amidst corruption that needs filling, with the right insight into His nature for the heresy arising from within the Church at that time. They are apologists like Clement of Alexandria who sook to make theology relevant to their times, bishops like Athanasius who spent his life protecting the church from certain heresies, and many revivalists like John Wesley, who administered the move of God to the church.
Lastly, church history has taught me that true inspiration is only found when we allow ourselves to get close and embrace people in both their greatness and their weakness. To learn from any parents, you have to watch them from up close and with the thought in mind that you too, one day, will become a parent, having to fill their shoes. Just like all the church fathers were part of church history, so are we. We can study their actions with the 20/20 vision of hindsight but our hearts should humbly tremble at the thought of filling their shoes. Church history, with all its different faces, should inspire us to give ourselves to the church with courage and our whole heart.